Episode 234: It's Important To Do These Things With Flare
The Cottswold loafed through the sky, her five finely tuned diesels
turning over at minimum power. In the airship's mess hall, MacKiernan
gazed at the Pacific and tried to control his impatience. He'd long since
given up trying to guess when Commodore Clark would announce a destination.
The Commodore's approach to investigation seemed to involve cruising about
aimlessly while waiting for information to drop in his lap.
Could this all be some sort of pose? the Irishman asked himself.
The evidence was ambiguous. It was difficult to imagine Clark in the role
of a spider, at the center of some vast web of intrigue, but the man had
shown a remarkable tendency to stumble upon clues... which he showed an
equally remarkable tendency to ignore.
It seemed more likely that Michaelson was the spider. The senior captain
had as much as said he was working with Naval Intelligence, and he'd also
admitted to a connection with the Kaiser's intelligence services. And if
Michaleson was involved, Miss Perkins could well be his agent, feeding
information to Clark at the man's direction. MacKiernan had seen evidence
of her skill in these matters the previous year, and the memory still
Did she ever really care about me? he wondered. Does that
'r�ach colleen even know her own heart?
His reflections were interrupted by a cough behind him. He turned to see
Adley, the Commodore's aide, standing in the doorway. "Excuse me, Mister
MacKiernan," said the signalman, "but the Commodore would like to see you in
the control car."
MacKiernan found Clark studying a copy of the Almanac. The Commodore looked
dissatisfied with the text. "We've received word that a vessel resembling
our quarry has called at the Ternate," he announced. "What do you know about
As a navigation officer, it was MacKiernan's job to have such information
at his fingertips. "It's a moderate-sized volcanic island north of the
Banda Sea, sir," he replied. "The Dutch East India Company uses it as their
administrative center for the Mollucas. They took it from the Spanish back
in the Eighteenth Century. I believe it's still the world's major producer
"Ah yes," mused Clark, "that would be the connection."
MacKiernan did his best not to look incredulous. "You think these fellows
after spices, sir?"
"These are a valuable commodity, Mister MacKiernan," the Commodore said
knowingly. "We will call at the Station and make some inquiries."
The records at Ternate's air station proved annoyingly uninformative. They
noted that a two million cubic foot airship registered as the N-109 had
arrived on the 14th of May and departed two days later, but gave no details
regarding the vessel's cargo, crew, or destination. This was not surprising.
Like all monopolies, the VOC was not in the business of making things easy
for its customers.
"Where do you want to go today?" MacKiernan asked Miss Perkins as they left
The secretary glanced at Clark and his men, who seemed to be puzzling over
a map. "I don't think we're likely to accomplish much if we remain with the
Commodore's party," she observed dryly. "Perhaps we should visit the
village market. I doubt Clark's people will think to investigate the place,
but if the fellows we're pursuing went there for provisions, we might be
able to find someone who remembers them."
MacKiernan smiled and offered her his arm. "An excellent
suggestion, mo mhuirnin. I would be happy to escort you."
The trip from the Station to the market was like a journey down the
With each block they travelled, the quality of the neighborhoods
declined, well-maintained colonial houses giving way to battered
warehouses, grimy shops, decaying hovels, and rubbish-strewn alleys.
MacKiernan found himself wishing he was armed. He'd have brought his
Service revolver, but the local authorities frowned on such things.
As they were passing an abandoned fruit stand, two burly seamen lunged at
them from the shadows. One pinned Miss Perkins by the arms and grabbed her
handbag while the other closed on MacKiernan.
"Look, Bertie!" said the first thug. "The little tart 'ad 'erself a gun!"
He held up a .25 calibre Webley & Scott pocket pistol, sneered, and flung it
into the weeds. "Fat lot o' good it did 'er!"
The second thug menaced MacKiernan with a club. "You'll clear out if'n you
know what's good for you."
The Irishman raised his fists. "Let the lady go."
The thug grinned. "Your funeral, mate."
MacKiernan measured up his opponent. It was clear this would not be an easy
fight. The man was big, heavily muscled, and had the scarred knuckles and
battered face of an experience brawler. But he might be vulnerable to
science. The Irishman began to edge left, forcing the man to turn towards
his weak side to face him. If he could catch the fellow off-balance, he
might be able to land a telling blow.
Unfortunately the other man seemed familiar with this maneuver. He edged
left as well, keeping his club at ready. MacKiernan's heart sank. These
men were no amateurs.
For several long seconds, the only sound was the scuff of feet against
dirt as the
two adversaries circled for position. For an instant, MacKiernan thought he
saw an opening. He stepped forward, feinted with his left, then slammed his
right fist into the man's stomach. It was like hitting a block of oak -- an
unwanted testimony to the strength of an English constitution. He barely
managed to dodge the return blow.
"That the best you've got, mate?" laughed the thug.
"No," lied MacKiernan. "I'm just warming up."
The two combatants were interrupted by sound of someone clearing his throat.
They turned to see Adley holding a Very pistol. "You might do well to
surrender," he warned the thugs.
"Hah," spat one, "that's just a flare gun."
"True," admitted Adley. "All it does is fire a chunk of incandescent
magnesium, blazing at 5600 degrees, with a muzzle velocity of 230 feet per
second. I imagine you'll shrug this off with no more than a few
The two men glanced at each other. "Right," said one. "We surrender."
"I've spoken with our new passengers," Adley reported some time after they'd
returned to the airship. "They are petty criminals, with a rather sorry
record back in England. They were quite willing to answer questions in
exchange for a reduced sentence."
"Why did they try to kidnap Miss Perkins?" asked Commodore
Clark. "Did they have any particular reason for singling her
"Not as far as I could determine, sir," said Adley, "but it appears the idea
was spawned by an earlier incident. Three days ago, an anonymous female
passenger from a visiting airship hired them to stage a similar attack, then
withdraw when a crewman appeared to rescue her."
MacKiernan scratched his head. Something about this story seemed familiar.
"I take it this woman came from the N-109?" he asked.
"We cannot know for sure," said the signalman, "but the timing is consistent
with this hypothesis."
"Excellent work, Adley!' the Commodore announced. "This confirms that the
fellows are up to no good! And I have a good idea where to find them!"
MacKiernan and Miss Perkins exchanged glances. It was clear she was just
as surprised by this development as he was.
Next week: Don't Mind Me, I'm Just The Help...
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